It's Not Easy Being Green

Look who's mad at Dick Lamm now!

Regardless of how they got on the ballot, a group of organizations with alarming names -- The Center for American Unity's VirginaDare/ Collective for "white nationalist writers (Virginia Date was supposedly the first white child born in North America); the National Alliance, which offers "ideology from a white racial perspective";; and White Politics Inc. -- all came out in support of their efforts. As did groups Lamm has been involved in, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The associations began posting messages on their websites' bulletin boards urging their members to join the Sierra Club so they could vote for the anti-immigration slate. The board took notice and warned members of their involvement in the notice they sent out about Lamm and the other anti-immigration candidates.

Lamm was angered by the notice, which he sees as an unfair attempt to influence the vote by aligning him with purported racists. "I was shocked the thirteen presidents signed that letter," he says. "I've been active in the environmental movement a long time, and I've won every major environmental award in this state."

Lamm and his allies were further outraged when Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, "I don't think Lamm, Pimentel and Morris are racists, but they are clearly being supported by racists."

Brian Stauffer
Dick Lamm
Mark Manger
Dick Lamm

In response, the three filed suit against the Sierra Club last month in California, asking for an injunction to delay the April vote because, they claimed, the note to members was a violation of Sierra Club rules prohibiting official communications from being used in a one-sided manner. Sierra Club president Larry Fahn told the San Francisco Chronicle the lawsuit was "replete with inaccuracies and misstatements" and that the leaders "will not be muzzled in getting the word out to our members."

By the end of the month, however, the effort was abruptly abandoned. "We dropped our lawsuit because I can't risk $200,000 in legal fees," explains Lamm, who believed that Fahn and other leaders would sue under a California law that protects freedom of speech and requires whoever loses in court to cover the other parties' legal expenses.

While no one has suggested that Lamm or the other candidates have direct ties to white supremacy -- that would be especially difficult for Morris, who is African-American -- the messages of support on racist websites were enough to alarm the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the radical right wing. The SPLC put out an alert in October, warning the Sierra Club that its board election was vulnerable to outside influence. Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report, wrote Sierra Club president Fahn that "without a doubt, the Sierra Club is the subject of a hostile takeover attempt by...a variety of right-wing extremists. By taking advantage of the welcoming grassroots nature of the Sierra Club, they hope to use the credibility of the club as a cover to advance their own extremist views."

For Lamm, being linked to racists is particularly galling. As governor, he was known for appointing minorities to state office and was widely seen as an ally of the civil-rights movement. He helped organize a chapter of the NAACP when he was at Berkeley, and he and his wife, Dottie, scraped together their money so she could go to Selma, Alabama, when civil-rights activists were gathering there to challenge racist officials in 1965.

"When we didn't have any money, we bought Dottie a ticket so she could go to Selma," Lamm says. "It's guilt by tenuous association."

The appearance was enough, however, for former Colorado senator Tim Wirth to pull his endorsement of Lamm at the behest of Sierra Club leaders, as did former U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall, uncle of Colorado congressman Mark Udall, whose wife, Maggie Fox, is the national club's deputy executive director. (Udall's cousin, Tom Udall, is a congressman from New Mexico.)

In 1975, when Lamm started his twelve-year stretch as governor, one of the most popular bumper stickers was a mock Colorado license plate with the word "Native" on it. The environmental movement had recently taken flight, and Coloradans were becoming anxious as thousands of people poured into the state, drawn by the mountain splendor that singer John Denver celebrated in a series of sappy songs.

Lamm eventually became the spokesman for those wanting to preserve Colorado even though he was not a native. He went to high school in Pittsburgh, where he failed to make the football team -- a "shattering" event that Lamm credits with making him more willing to be an outsider. "I made up for it by becoming an adventurer of sorts," he recalls. During summers in high school and college, Lamm took jobs working at a lumber camp in Oregon, on an ore boat on the Great Lakes and as a runner on the New York Stock Exchange.

"Those jobs were the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. "They taught me to be independent and to take risks."

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin on an ROTC scholarship, Lamm was sent by the Army to Fort Carson, where he indulged his love of skiing. When he finished law school at Berkeley in 1961, he returned to Colorado and has been here ever since.

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